Skip to Main Content

Strategic Business Insights (SBI) logo

Connected Homes October 2014 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Kyle M. Whitman

If This Then That and the Smart Home

By Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Pang is a senior consultant at SBI monitoring Pervasive Computing among other Explorer Technology Areas.

Why is this topic significant?

If This Then That is a web-based service that launched originally to support simple interactions between social-media services. Recently, thanks to smart home companies, it is emerging as a tool for simple smart home programming.

Description

In 2010, Linden Tibbs and Jesse Tane launched the web service If This Then That (IFTTT). IFTTT allowed users to automate actions across different social media and cloud services through simple "recipes" consisting of "triggers" and "actions" following an if-this-then-that format. Early enthusiasm for IFTTT focused on its ability to automate online activities. For example, if a user posted a Facebook or Twitter update that linked to a newspaper article, IFTTT could then instruct the user's Evernote account to download a copy of the article.

From its earliest days, IFTTT also contained triggers activated by weather conditions or by date and time. Since then, the number of triggers connecting to the physical world has expanded considerably. With the rise of Wi-Fi- and cloud-connected smart home devices, IFTTT added triggers and actions to control smart devices. These smart devices have given rise to recipes ranging from the whimsical (for example, "If my team is playing, then the Hue displays team colors") to ones that replicate classic home-automation functions (for example, "If my location is nearby, then Nest changes settings"). Two recent developments could make IFTTT a more significant player in the smart home. First, the company received $30 million in venture-capital funding. Second, IFTTT announced collaborations with home-security company ADT and smart home hub-maker Revolv. An IFTTT channel will allow ADT's sensors, cameras, and alarms to serve for new purposes and in conjunction with other products. Revolv's universal remote for the smart home can control devices using Zigbee, Z-Wave, Wi-Fi, Insteon, and other wireless protocols. With IFTTT, Revolv will make it easier for users to create recipes that cut across products and protocols—for example, to direct Wi-Fi-enabled lights and Z-wave security cameras to turn on if something triggers an Insteon motion sensor. Revolv also extends IFTTT functionality to devices—such as Sonos wireless speakers, GE electrical outlets and switches, and Yale electronic locks—that do not have triggers and actions.

Implications

IFTTT is already a darling of early adopters, but its radical simplicity gives it appeal to less tech-savvy users as well. Although its collaboration with smart home companies offers no magic bullet to the problems of interoperability, multiple standards, and communication that have plagued the industry, IFTTT could help build new uses and value for smart appliances.

Impacts/Disruptions

IFTTT could also turn smart devices into commodity products. Today, products such as Nest and Hue win points for the elegance of their smartphone apps as well as their hardware. But as developers use IFTTT, Revolv, and other partners to create increasingly sophisticated services (for example, adjusting settings to make the house comfortable for visiting elderly relatives), today's smart devices risk could become tomorrow's boring hardware.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Medium

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 5 Years

Opportunitites in the following industry areas:

Smart home, smart appliances, wireless communications, cloud-based services

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

The Sharing Economy as Driver of Smart Home Technology

By Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Pang is a senior consultant at SBI monitoring Pervasive Computing among other Explorer Technology Areas.

Why is this topic significant?

Demand for remotely accessible smart home technologies is coming from an unexpected source: the rise of Airbnb and the short-term rentals industry.

Description

In the summer of 2014, Toyota Prius drivers began reporting that "random" people were trying to get into their cars. It turns out those people were users of the car-sharing service Uber, and the hip hybrid vehicle has become synonymous for them with Uber. The Prius-Uber story illustrates how high-tech products can become closely associated with new businesses.

Another linkage is emerging between smart home products and users of Airbnb, the web-based service that allows individuals to rent rooms or properties for short periods. Owners renting vacation homes or managing rental properties at a distance are becoming avid consumers of internet-enabled smart home products: For many of these owners, smart locks from Lockitron and Doorbot, Fibaro or Infineon window sensors, internet-enabled security cameras and doorbells, and Nest thermostats are essential equipment.

One virtue is increased security and convenience for hosts and guests alike. Smart sensors, door locks, and internet-accessible security systems can warn owners if windows have been left open, allow them to secure parts of the house against unauthorized access, or give guests smart lock codes via email or text rather than arrange to drop off keys. For guests, smart locks make it easier for them to enter and leave (much as smartphone-based check-in and NFC door locks speed entry into hotels).

A second major benefit is environmental and energy efficiency. Products such as Nest, Hue, and Insteon-connected outlets allow owners to turn off heat, lights and appliances after guests have left. Nest's "auto away" mode is especially popular, because it automatically turns off heat when it detects no one in the house. Indeed, Airbnb claims that its users are smart home–technology enthusiasts partly out of a concern for the environment. In early 2014, it commissioned the Cleantech Group to conduct a survey of the conservation practices of Airbnb hosts and guests. Cleantech found that in North America, 83% of hosts own at least one energy-efficient appliance, and 95% offer recycling in their rentals. Some 94% of guests recycle. The report also claimed, somewhat more controversially, that guests use one-third the energy when staying in Airbnb properties than when staying in hotels.

Smart home devices also increase the likelihood that users can access personal-music and video-service subscriptions such as Spotify, Rdio, and Netflix through a rental's entertainment system.

Implications

Not only are Airbnb users keen on smart home technology; they may also serve as "influencers" who encourage guests to install their own smart home devices. To that end, in September 2014, Airbnb and Nest signed a deal in which Nest would give smart thermostats to select Airbnb hosts. The placement will boost Airbnb's claims that its hosts offer a green alternative to wasteful hotels and give thousands of visitors exposure to Nest products.

Impacts/Disruptions

In November 2013, roughly 350 000 "hosts" offered more than 500 000 properties on Airbnb, and about 4 million visitors rented through the service. As a market whose requirements for security and convenience are similar to those of the hotel industry but that sits closer to the consumer market, Airbnb could become a test bed and showcase for future smart home products.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Medium

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: Now

Opportunitites in the following industry areas:

Connected homes, smart appliances, security, HVAC, home automation, facilities management

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: